Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, The Bay News, Morro Bay CA
For March 28, 2007
The Solar Dryer
It was an indulgence, really. A silly conceit. After 23 years of using a dryer, there I was, standing next to my neighbor Phil, an expert at all things concrete, staring at a hole in the ground, calculating a cunning base to support my new umbrella clothesline.
As a child raised in the desert, I knew nothing but clotheslines. What else? Electric and gas dryers were a shameless extravagance only indulged in by rich people with more money than sense. Everybody knew that the only way to dry clothes was to hang them out on the line to dry naturally and be returned to the basket filled with that smell of sun-spanked freshness, a smell that laundry soap makers would spend millions trying to duplicate in little tear-off dryer sheets for folks fool enough to use dryers in the first place.
As a child, my sister and I were assigned the Saturday morning job of hanging out the family laundry. It was a chore I either viewed as a whiningly unfair example of child slave-labor or, if Joan and I both got duty together, a chance for some shared sisterly secrets amidst the wet dresses and tired bath towels, far away from adult ears.
Eventually, when we pulled alternate weeks, I soon began to see real value in the opportunity I had to spend quiet, reflective time among the lines, carefully turning dresses inside out to keep them from fading, snapping the sheets smartly before hanging them as I’d seen my mother do with a practiced expertise I greatly admired. Sometimes I’d rush the whole operation, panties bunched together and drooping from one overstuffed clothespin, sheets hurled crookedly over the line, pillowcases slapped up in an effort to be done with the whole mess and so get free to scamper over the fence to go play with the neighbor kids.
At other times, if the weather was fine, the sun warm, and the breeze smelled of date tree pollen and the swooning scent of grapefruit blossoms, then it was a morning to dawdle, sorting the lines in precise groupings of sheets with sheets, then neat rows of pillow cases, followed by perfectly matched lines of socks, a Saturday morning Mondrian masterpiece moving in the breeze.
College life meant apartment living so clotheslines became a non-existent luxury. Instead, it was the Laundromat at 1 a.m. or a rush up and down stairs to the basement for the communal washer and dryer, quarters clattering in the coin box. But when we bought our first home, up went the line, snaking from avocado tree to avocado tree, and I was back to the familiar weight of the wet laundry-filled basket on the hip, the soft rattle of the clothespins as I rooted around in the clothespin bag, the sweet wooden taste of the pins that would invariably end up in my mouth, laundry hanging being an activity that regularly requires more than two hands.
When I moved to Los Osos, I fell away from my frugal desert ways and figured the damp marine environment required a dryer. And for 23 years, that became my washday reality. Yet here we were, Phil and I, staring at a hole in the ground, putting up a clothesline, a whimsical indulgence, a symbolic conceit that this pole will help save energy, thus Al Gore and I will save the planet one sock at a time.
But best of all, the clothesline has now become a welcome touchstone connecting past and present. Once again, there is the weight of the basket on my hip, the taste of the pins. Once again, there’s the quiet time reaching up to the sky to pin a bed sheet corner to the line, then a quick spin of the pole, another pin, then another. Instead of sweet date palm pollen, there is the tangy whiff of kelp when the tide’s low, and the sharp sweet smell of the eucalyptus trees. The umbrella pole is a cunning arrangement of square concentric rings, so hanging a load once again becomes a Saturday morning Mondrian masterpiece moving in the salty breeze; Sheets on the long lines, socks on the short.
And best of all, I get to snap the sheets smartly, just like my Mother did, with a practiced air of expertise, remembering to turn the dresses inside out so the sun won’t fade them.